Gregorio José María Cardona, educator, activist, and officer in Leñadores del Mundo, was born to Rosalio Cardona and Teresa Bobadilla in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, on November 17, 1876. When he was about three years old, Cardona became orphaned, and a priest in Guadalajara, Eduardo Sánchez Camacho, provided for him and ensured his education. In his writings, Cardona (who went by his initials G.J.M.) referred to Sánchez Camacho (bishop of Tamaulipas beginning in 1880) as his “foster father.”
Much of Cardona’s early life is yet unknown. His record in the 1920 census listed that he immigrated to the United States in 1904. By 1906 he operated a school in Brownsville, Texas. Two years later he moved to New Braunfels where he and members of the ethnic Mexican community successfully petitioned school trustees for the creation of a Mexican school, located in a section of New Braunfels known as Comaltown, at which Cardona fulfilled the roles of both teacher and principal from 1908 to 1920.
G.J.M. Cardona worked to improve the lives of local Mexican Americans via his leadership in the Mexican school as well as his involvement in the community. In May 1917 he and three others presented a petition containing more than 150 signatures to the New Braunfels City Council asking for better treatment for ethnic Mexicans in the town.
In spite of Cardona’s participation in community events and his promotion of cooperation between the races, he was not above suspicion during the years immediately preceding and encompassing World War I. In 1915 some New Braunfels residents accused Cardona of encouraging local Mexicans to make trouble, a claim that Cardona publicly refuted. Two years later during World War I, members of the Comal County Council of Defense reported Cardona to the Texas State Council of Defense and claimed that Cardona’s letter to the editor about a recent trip to Mexico encouraged the exodus of Mexicans at a time when Texans needed their labor for the war effort. Cardona likely did not know he was under investigation; if he did, he never publicly addressed these concerns. Throughout the remainder of the war, Cardona spoke at patriotic rallies, served on the health committee of the local American Red Cross, made monetary donations to both the Red Cross and the Belgian Children’s Milk Fund, and published a letter to the editor in La Prensa about the origins of “Uncle Sam.”
G.J.M. Cardona participated in the Junta Patriotica, a committee that planned the annual Mexican Independence Day celebration, and he was a member of the fraternal society Caballeros de Honor (Knights of Honor). However, Cardona’s notability spread far beyond Comal County via his participation in Leñadores del Mundo (the Woodmen of the World [W.O.W.] auxiliary for ethnic Mexicans), a fraternal society that provided insurance for members. In New Braunfels, Cardona helped found Campo Independencia No. 3337 in 1918 and the Industrial W.O.W. camp Allende in 1919. He served as secretary of Campo Independencia and comandante del campo (camp commander) of Allende. Later, as diputado instalador (deputy installer), Cardona traveled around the area and helped establish W.O.W. camps in Brazos, Wilson, Hays, Robertson, Milam, and other counties. By the end of August 1919 Cardona had organized twenty-five camps. As jefe de distrito (district chief), Cardona oversaw camps in fourteen counties.
Tragically, during the height of his career, Gregorio José María Cardona died of liver cancer in New Braunfels on September 7, 1920. He left a widow, Martina Cantú, whom he had married in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, in 1910. Adopted son Nicolás Rodolfo preceded him in death. He was buried in Panteon Hidalgo Cemetery in New Braunfels.